The Redskins had smooth sailing for three quarters against the St. Louis Rams but they suddenly hit some rough waters in the fourth.
Holding a 17-0 lead, the Redskins drove into St. Louis territory. Facing third and 11 at the 26, a clinching touchdown was possible and a field goal to grow the lead to 20 points was likely. But Rex Grossman’s pass bounced out of the hands of Santana Moss and was picked off by Justin King. The cornerback returned it 51 yards to set up a field goal. The next time the Rams had the ball they put together a touchdown drive and all of a sudden it became a one-score game at 17-10.
Things went from bad to worse in a hurry. On the first play from scrimmage after the kickoff, James Laurinaitis picked off Grossman’s pass and the Rams had 19 yards to go to tie the game with 5:30 left to play.
That’s when it was what Brian Orakpo called “go time” for the Redskins’ defense. Here is a look at the game-saving sequence for the Redskins:
From the Redskins 20, Grossman made a play action fake to Tim Hightower and on a seven-step drop he fired to Moss, who was at the numbers on the left about 18 yards downfield.
From his middle linebacker spot, Laurinaitis stayed home until he saw that there was no handoff and then he turned and dashed back to his right. He turned around just in time to intercept the pass. He went to the ground untouched, got up, and rumbled 15 yards to the 19 where Trent Williams pushed him out of bounds.
“It was a hard play-action pass, kind of a staple in our offense,” he told Kelli Johnson on Comcast SportsNet. “The mike backer [Laurinaitis] was sucked up on the run, hauled ass to a play we run a lot and got underneath it. I have to watch the tape, but I HAVE to avoid that.”
Although Redskins fans everywhere were gasping for breath at that point, the Redskins were doing just fine. They huddled up and decided that enough was enough.
“We’re excited because we’re about to totally take their momentum away,” said cornerback Josh Wilson after the game.
“It’s go time,” said Orakpo. “Momentum was kind of shifting. Everybody is looking in each other’s eyes. We’re smiling and ready to go.”
On first down, Bradford dropped back seven steps and for a moment it looked like he had a nice pocket. But Orakpo kept on pushing Rams left tackle Rodger Saffold back and as Bradford started to throw, Orakpo got a hand on his left shoulder and turned him enough to cause the pass to bounce to the turf at about the six.
Steven Jackson carried up the middle for about three yards on second and ten but the Rams were penalized for an illegal shift. Mike Shanahan elected to take the penalty and make it second and 15 rather than third and seven.
Bradford took the shotgun snap and took a few steps back as the Redskins rushed four. From his right end position, Stephen Bowen put an inside move on Saffold. Orakpo, who had come rushing up the middle, went outside and knocked Saffold to the ground. Bowen had a clear path to Bradford and he took him down for a loss of 10 to set up third and 25
Third and long was no time to relax. Bradford’s touchdown pass to Jackson came on third and 15. This time, however, Bradford had no chance. He took the shotgun snap and before he had time to look around, Orakpo was on him. Orakpo had line up wide left and he had a good running start before he engaged Saffold. The tackle barely slowed him down as he bulled him backwards and took down Bradford for a loss of five.
St. Louis punted on fourth and 30. The crisis was averted. The Rams did get one more possession but they couldn’t get out of their own territory.
Orakpo put it best: “That is what we get paid to do.”